Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County

by Robert James Walles

Hardcover: 192 pages

Publisher: Warner Bros. (1992)

Fiction | Romance | Women

On the back cover of the jacket is an excerpt from the book, shortly stated a quote “he noticed all of her”. That in essence is what makes this story, the story that it is. The two leading characters are not two young sex pots going at it. There is no need to put into words the fullness of her breasts or the tightness of his abs. These are two people that see each other, really see each other. The sensuality is through their study of and getting to know the other. The delivery makes it plausible that a dedicated wife and mother could let go for a very brief moment of time and allow the memory of that to last until her death.

This is Francesca’s story.

It is a short story considering the size of books that most read. Within this small number of pages, contains a story with a large impact.

In the beginning, a prologue from the author himself explaining how he came across his story. There’s a meeting with Carolyn and Michael, the children of Francesca and Richard Johnson. The two grown children thought their mother’s life long secret was worth sharing. It describes how they brought their mother’s journals, letters and photographs to prove the events of a relationship between Francesca and Robert.

The book is so believable and to be perfectly honest, I wanted it to be true. The Bridges of Madison County certainly reads like non-fiction but unfortunately,  it is all fiction. No real evidence is found to express this man’s art with exception of Francesca’s keepsakes. Even so, the author continually flirts with the suggestion of this being a true story.

The story really begins August 8, 1965 with an old green Chevrolet pickup truck containing everything its driver will need for a road trip. Photographer Robert Kincaid plans for Madison County, Iowa from Bellingham, Washington. It would be his job for the following days to photograph the covered bridges of Madison County. While simply working his craft fate will bring him and Francesca together.

The author speaks of how writing this book altered his perspective to world views and what is possible of human relationships. It had the exact same impression on me. What could be a travesty is set to such gentle explanation. Francesca is quickly described with dedication to her family life, how she may want more, yet she is satisfied and content with how things are. What could be written with more complication is left simply done, giving the reader credit to know how life feels, and how life changes us, no matter our situation, no matter what we have, or what we do not have.

In Conclusion

What was so significant to me is that no one was actually telling this story to Carolyn and Michael. The reader gets the story from Francesca herself. On her birthday she performs her celebration ritual by remembering Robert.

When Francesca passes away, her children are introduced to those memories with letters, photographs, journals and magazines. Some of the things found were things sent to their Mother by Robert over the years.

No one is physically there to share their side of things or to influence Carolyn’s or Michael’s thinking or thoughts of their mother. Of course they are angry when they first realize what happened. However, these two grown adults have complicated lives of their own.

Both Carolyn and Michael are suffering for different reasons in their marriages and with their own children. As the past unfolds for them, they are able to draw their own conclusions of truly what took place all those years ago, and how it lingered for a life time, and even after death.

Perhaps their own struggles allowed them the opportunity to understand better and to rationalize the events…..

Their mother saw things differently when she was young, before she was married and before her children. She grew as they grew but never lost her loyalty to them. Life happened and things changed. Maybe she wished for something more. She held her values but still had dreams. One thing she got really good at was hiding her disappointment in life and in herself. She got really good at hiding all of that from them until the time was right for her to share everything about who she really was.

“She watched him go through the kitchen door way, across the porch and into the yard. He didn’t let the screen door bang like everyone else did but instead shut it gently.”

The impact of the slamming screen door was meaningful to Francesca and the author makes it easy for the reader to connect to that emotion. All the tiny bits and pieces that create the explosion for her to erupt with a stranger can be accessed with the sound of that door slamming shut.

It is simple and it is easy and it is magnified.

The Book VS The Movie

I have read the book and I have watched the movie. There really is very little difference between the two other than the arrangement of events. The movie begins with the children (as adults) and the effect on them and their relationships. Where as the book focuses on Francesca answering a question. How could a woman of her nature fall in love with a complete stranger? Then explaining how that brief moment in time rested heavy on her heart and soul for the rest of her life. The children’s aspect and Francesca’s are very different and presented very differently. Anyone that simply sees the movie might walk away getting an entire different message than the author may have intended.

As with all books that are made into a movie, I still think reading the story is best. Emotion and desires come through words that the movie screen can not provide. I wont say that movies are not emotional. It is as simple as this…this little book should be read.

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